Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Gentrification is getting worse in San Francisco

At the beginning of this decade, one beloved block in San Francisco had a taqueria, a flower shop and a bookstore. Sparky’s diner, a favorite final hangout for night owls, queer teens and the blackout drunk, was open round the clock.

Today, this block of Church Street just south of Market has the kind of abandoned storefronts that are usually a shorthand for declining mill towns, not centers of the tech future. But all those closed shops are emblematic of today’s San Francisco, where even in upscale areas, the city’s economic boom can look surprisingly like an economic crisis.

What this represents is a strange, second-wave gentrification, in which an influx of well-heeled residents means not Blue Bottle coffee shops and Kinfolk-inspired interior design stores, but emptiness. 

Our usual ideas about gentrification suggest neighborhood standbys get replaced by fancy boutiques. Instead, after Sparky’s came nothing

The intersection of Church and Market streets is where many San Francisco neighborhoods come together, from the historic Castro to the nouveau gentry in Hayes Valley and the hipster vortex that is the Mission District. It’s not necessarily picturesque, but it’s long been quirky, lively, easily reached by public transit and popular with young creative types. 

In the last decade, splashy apartment complexes have shot up all over the area. The neighborhood must have gained hundreds, if not thousands, of new residents. But the businesses in the area have been dying off.

In 2017, about one in every eight storefronts here was empty, and more businesses seem to have vacated since then. The diner was first to go: in 2015 rent suddenly went up, the diner’s owner refused to pay, and Sparky’s was no more. 

Our usual ideas about gentrification suggest neighborhood standbys get replaced by fancy boutiques and brunch-centric eateries. Instead, after Sparky’s came...nothing. Elsewhere, too, long-term leases timed out, rents increased, and the old neighborhood hangouts disappeared. Aardvark Books, which stood on Church Street for nearly 40 years, until 2018, is now a hollow storefront.

The fancy new developments along the upper stretch of Market Street have had a paradoxical effect, filling the area with people while depopulating it. The reasons have a lot to do with the tech economy that’s made San Francisco one of the most expensive cities in the world. 

Developers make their money with luxury apartments aimed at high-salaried tech workers, while ground floor retail is an architectural and economic afterthought: giant spaces that any business would have trouble filling with life and justifying financially...

See also The "transformation" of Divisadero and City Hall's contempt for neighborhood business.

Thanks to Planetizen.

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